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Note: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted existing and future travel plans, and turned greater attention to travel insurance. Read our take on specific information concerning travel insurance and COVID-19, or see our guide below.
Booking travel always carries some degree of uncertainty. Travel insurance provides a safety net so you can step out with confidence. Insurance is designed to cover the big financial risks you don’t want to bear alone. You may not need travel insurance for inexpensive trips, but it can provide a sense of security when you prepay for pricey reservations or plan a big trip abroad.
More Americans are buying travel insurance. Around 65.8 million people were covered by some type of travel policy in 2018, a 49% increase from 2016, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.
There are many different policies available, and selecting the right plan depends on your particular circumstances. Follow along as we take a look at the most common travel insurance needs, determine what factors affect the cost, present different travel insurance options and show you how to get covered.
Common travel insurance needs
Depending on the type of coverage you’re looking for, the chart below will help you determine what to look for when selecting a policy:
|If you want:||Include this in your travel insurance policy:|
|Payment of medical expenses if you get sick or injured on a trip and need emergency care that’s not covered by your regular health insurance plan.||Travel medical plan|
|To be taken to the nearest hospital or flown home if necessary when you’re injured or you get sick on a trip.||Emergency evacuation and repatriation|
|Reimbursement of nonrefundable reservations if you get sick and have to cancel or end a trip early; reimbursement if you incur extra costs (e.g., lodging) due to a delay by the airline or other carrier.||Trip cancellation, interruption and delay|
|Reimbursement of nonrefundable reservations no matter why you cancel a trip.||“Cancel for any reason” coverage|
|Payment for lost, stolen or damaged baggage.||Baggage and personal belongings|
|Help finding a lawyer abroad.||24-hour assistance|
|Payment for rental car damage.||Car rental collision insurance|
Depending on the policy, travel insurance reimburses you or offers services when something goes awry. There’s even coverage for the worst-case scenario: if you die in an accident while traveling. Accidental death coverage pays your beneficiary a lump sum in that case.
Before you buy, take a little time to get familiar with different types of travel insurance, how it’s priced, and what it covers and excludes. Usually, the more thorough the coverage, the more it will cost.
Factors affecting travel insurance cost
A comprehensive travel insurance plan typically will cost about 4% to 8% of the cost of a trip, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. The price will vary depending on:
- Length and cost of the trip: The longer and more expensive the trip, the higher the policy cost.
- Destination: High health-care costs in your destination can drive up the price of travel insurance.
- Medical conditions you want covered: Coverage for conditions you already have will increase the cost of travel insurance.
- Amount and breadth of coverage: The more risks a policy covers, the more it will cost.
- Your age: Generally the older you are, the higher the price.
Keep these factors in mind when considering different travel insurance options.
Different types of travel insurance
You’ll find a wide selection of travel insurance plans when you shop for a policy. Typically, travel insurance is sold as a package, known as a comprehensive plan, which includes a variety of coverage. Some insurers and comparison sites let you customize a policy by choosing types of coverage a la carte. For example, TravelInsurance.com is a comparison site that provides quotes from different providers.
Here are seven of the most common types of coverage:
1. Travel medical insurance
These plans provide health insurance while you’re away from home. Although in some ways these policies work like traditional health plans, generally you cannot use travel health insurance for routine medical events. For example, a routine medical checkup is usually not covered. In addition, these policies often include limitations on coverage and exclusions for pre-existing conditions.
Although most travel insurance plans cover many recreational activities, such as skiing and horseback riding, they often exclude adventure sports, such as skydiving or parasailing, or competition in organized sporting events. You may need to buy a special travel policy designed for adventure or competitive sports.
Most likely, your U.S.-based medical insurance will not work while you’re traveling internationally, and Medicare does not provide any coverage once you leave the U.S. outside of a few very specific exemptions. If you plan on traveling abroad, purchasing travel medical insurance could make a lot of sense.
2. Trip cancellation, interruption and delay
Trip cancellation insurance reimburses you for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses if the tour operator goes out of business or you have to cancel the trip for one of the reasons outlined in the policy, such as:
- Your own illness
- The illness or death of a family member who’s not traveling with you
- Natural disasters
Trip interruption insurance covers the nonrefundable cost of the unused portion of the trip if it is interrupted due to a reason outlined in the policy.
Trip delay coverage reimburses you for expenses such as lodging and meals if you’re delayed during a trip (e.g., your flight gets canceled due to weather).
Many package policies cover all three. These policies are different from the cancellation waivers that cruise and tour operators offer, the Insurance Information Institute says. Waivers are cheap, ranging from $40 to $60, and often include restrictions. For example, according to the institute, waivers might not refund your money if you cancel immediately before departure. Waivers are technically not insurance policies.
Some companies offer additional layers of coverage at extra cost. “Cancel for any reason” coverage will reimburse a large part of the trip cost, no matter why you back out. And some companies let you pay extra to cover pre-existing conditions if you cancel for medical reasons.
» Learn more: What you need to know about Chase’s trip delay insurance
3. Baggage and personal belongings
This coverage reimburses you for baggage and personal belongings that are lost, stolen or damaged during the trip. Some plans also reimburse you for extra expenses if your baggage is delayed for more than a certain period, such as 12 hours.
Your renters or homeowners insurance may cover personal belongings while you are traveling. It’s best to review your homeowners insurance policy to determine the level of coverage it provides so you do not end up paying for a benefit you already have.
4. Emergency medical assistance, evacuation and repatriation
This coverage pays medical expenses if you get sick or injured on a trip. Medical evacuation coverage pays for transporting you to the nearest hospital, and medical repatriation pays for flying you to your home country.
5. 24-hour assistance
This service is included with many package plans. The insurer provides a 24-hour hotline that you can call when you need help, such as booking a flight after a missed connection, finding lost luggage, or locating a doctor or lawyer.
Most travel insurers cover a wide array of services, but the specific options vary. Some plans include concierge services, providing help with restaurant referrals, tee time reservations and more. Many services also offer information before the trip, such as required vaccinations. The only way to know what’s included is to read the policy.
» Learn more: Should you insure your cruise?
6. Accidental death and dismemberment insurance
This coverage pays a lump sum to your beneficiary, such as a family member, if you die in an accident while on the trip. Accidental death and dismemberment insurance policies also pay a portion of the sum to you if you lose a hand, foot, limb, eyesight, speech or hearing. Some plans apply only to accidental death in a plane.
This coverage may be duplicative if you already have sufficient life insurance, which pays out whether you die in an accident or from an illness. You may also already have accidental death and dismemberment insurance through work, so it’s best to check your policies to ensure you’re not overpaying.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s guide to life insurance
7. Rental car coverage
This pays for repairing your rental car if it’s damaged in a wreck, by vandals or in a natural disaster. The coverage doesn’t include liability insurance, which pays for damage to other vehicles or for the medical treatment of others if you cause an accident and are held responsible.
Ask your car insurance company whether your policy will cover you when renting cars on the trip. U.S. car insurance policies generally don’t cover you when driving in other countries, except Canada.
Car insurance requirements are complex because they vary among countries. You can usually purchase liability insurance from the rental car company. Learn about car insurance requirements by searching for auto insurance by country on the U.S. Embassy website.
How to get travel insurance
When you’re considering travel insurance for an upcoming trip, you’ll be happy to know that some components of your trip may already be covered. For example, when you book a trip with your credit card, depending on the card you use, you may already receive trip cancellation and interruption coverage.
So when deciding on what level of coverage you need, check to see what you already get with your credit card. Then, decide what additional coverage you would like. Commonly, travel medical protection is not included with your credit card, so if you’re looking for more comprehensive coverage, it makes sense to purchase a general travel insurance policy.
Below, we include four ways to obtain travel insurance, along with the pros and cons of each option.
4 tips for buying travel insurance
Keep these four important tips in mind when you’re considering a travel insurance policy.
- Evaluate the financial risks you face when traveling. Can you bear those costs yourself, or do you want insurance?
- Examine what coverage you already have: Does your credit card offer travel insurance? Do you have renters or homeowners insurance to cover belongings? What is the deductible? Will your health plan cover you in all the locations where you travel?
- Get quotes for travel insurance online. Choose a package of the benefits you need and compare prices for similar coverage among carriers.
- Narrow your choices and then read the policy details to understand what’s covered, what’s excluded and the limits on coverage. You may find that the lowest-priced policy is too restrictive and that paying a little more gets you the coverage you need. Or you might find that the cheapest, most basic policy fits the bill.
The bottom line
Unpredictability is one of the mind-opening joys of travel, but travel insurance should contain no surprises. The time you spend to understand your options will be well worth the security you have as you embark on your next adventure.
Check out our additional resources on travel insurance:
9 credit cards that provide travel insurance
Your Guide to AmEx trip cancellation and travel insurance
Your guide to Chase Sapphire Reserve’s trip cancellation and travel insurance